China just landed a robot on the far side of the moon. What an achievement: Shooting the Moon! I remember the Apollo moon landings from when I was very young and Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins became heroes of mine. The Apollo 11 mission is one of my earliest memories. Because I was very young and unwell in hospital I couldn’t watch it on television. I did see plenty of the following expeditions to our closest heavenly neighbour.
A friend and I looked at the famous picture of Buzz Aldrin standing on the moon’s surface. Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 Eagle lunar lander are reflected Aldrin’s visor. It’s an evocative and powerful image. You and I will never be able to capture a similar shot to that. Seeing the photo got us talking about putting uniqueness into our photography.
My friend pointed at an image of a Bamburgh sunrise photo and said, ‘Do we really need to see yet another photo of that?’
Searching online for Bamburgh Castle sunrise images revealed 110,000 results. This is not surprising; it’s a beautiful view. Many of the images were similar and fell mostly into two groups. Firstly were the ubiquitous, well composed, long-exposures with milky-smooth seas shot at dawn. The others were quick snaps shot on sunny day trips to the beach. Most of them looked very similar to each other.
There is something special, even spiritual, about watching the sun and moon rise or set over the sea. Heading out to photograph them at a beautiful location, like Bamburgh beach, is worth the effort. Though done many times before, lots of photographers still venture out to capture that scene.
Is there anything wrong with making a photograph of something that’s shot so often? Of course not. Studying and copying what others did before us is a super way of learning new skills. It gives us a starting place from which to improve.
There are scenes I have shot numerous times in the hope that the next time it will be just that bit better.
Creating our own art good enough to hang on the wall for ourselves and others to enjoy is a goal worth aiming for. It’s relatively easy taking photographs of beautiful scenery at dusk and dawn as those times provide perfect light for landscape photography. Almost any photographer of any level of skill with little hardship can get good sunset shots. Getting up for sunrise takes a bit more effort.
“But, they are clichés!” my friend said.
I understood that point, although didn’t agree with the sentiment. If people enjoy shooting a scene and others like looking at them, then that’s fine. I know that if I post a pretty, colourful landscape taken at sunrise on Instagram, it will get many more ‘likes’ than the atmospheric pictures that mean more to me.
What was really bothering my friend was revealed in their next question. “How do I get originality into my photos?”
Despite everything I said above, taking photos of things that have been shot before probably makes your images less noteworthy than having originality and a distinctive, individual style. Being unique does not necessarily result in hundreds of Likes on Instagram or Facebook. But, chasing fame on social media is a shallow pursuit.
Some photographers have a unique style. Take a look at the sublime work of Polish photographer Maya Edyta Kot. Each image she publishes is a masterpiece and coheres with the other photos she shares. Every photograph tells a story that is open to personal interpretation. Her work isn’t about popularism but about storytelling and art.
Contrast her work with the majority of photographs on Instagram.
Ansel Adams, David Bailey and Annie Leibovitz developed original styles and those styles have been copied many times by those who try to emulate their work. Finding originality does not guarantee uniqueness forever.
Of course, very few photographers receive the amount of acclaim as does Annie Leibovitz. But, personal improvement and achievement are far more important. If you are pleased with your images, then that’s all that really matters. If someone else likes them too, that’s great.
Start a project. Come up with a story you want to tell and take a series of photos to illustrate that story. (It doesn’t have to be the moon). Try concentrating on one theme, or a group of related subjects. Stick to photographing only that for a few weeks or even months. Try shooting the same subject from different positions and angles and in changing light. Adjust the focus, aperture and shutter values. Take your time over each shot. Study and learn from each photo you make. With every click of the shutter you hone your skills.
There is an old saying, if you reach for the moon and miss you will end up amongst the stars. So go out and start Shooting the Moon.
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